A new program offered through the Seven Generations Education Institute here is hoping to ease the current high demand of hairstylists in the Fort Frances area.
The Hairstyling Diploma offered through SGEI's satellite campus on King's Highway, in partnership with Sault College, took a new intake of students for its inaugural program back in September.
Now, almost 45 weeks later, the seven students in the program are well on their way to graduation, which will present them with a diploma and the skills to take their education to the next level.
“Once these students leave the program here, they'll have all the education requirements related to becoming a hairstylist,” said Don Eldridge, SGEI post-secondary co-ordinator for Fort Frances.
“The next step in their career progression is to obtain an apprenticeship with a local employer—or, really, any employer anywhere,” he noted.
After students complete a 2,000-hour apprenticeship, following 1,500 hours in the classroom, they will be eligible to write their trade exams.
Eldridge noted the industry currently is undergoing a transition. In the past, a written exam was all that was required to obtain a licence after completing the apprenticeship and classroom requirements.
But for this intake of hairstyling students, a “Red Seal” endorsement is a possibility.
“These students will very likely be in a 'Red Seal' environment in terms of getting their licensing for hairstyling,” Eldridge explained.
"As a result, they'll actually likely be tested not only with a written test but also a practical exam.
“That 'Red Seal' will then entitle them to have a licence across Canada as a hairstylist,” he added.
Access to hairstylists has been lacking in Fort Frances and the surrounding communities, and Eldridge said that's why the SGEI brought the program here, as well as why its esthetics program was in that space the year before.
“There is a need locally for hairstylists," he remarked. ”It is very difficult to get your hair cut in this town.
“So there is a demand for it.”
In addition, despite the expense to open a salon, there's a low barrier to entry. It's also a position that doesn't require office space.
“In theory, once a person becomes licensed, they can cut hair at their kitchen table if they choose to,” Eldridge said.
“There's always employment within the hairstyling industry.”
As well, the skills gained through the program, in not only hairstyling but in entrepreneurial and business knowledge, will help “build economic capacity in their communities,” Eldridge added.
SGEI serves the 10 First Nation communities around Fort Frances. The voices on the institute's board of directors come from those communities and are a big force in the direction SGEI takes in its programming.
However, a student does not have to be from one of those communities to apply.
Pamela Ross, a student in the program from Couchiching, decided to take it because of the children in her life.
She has three little ones that she cares for now, and finds that it is difficult to take them to a salon for a haircut because the kids are not quite comfortable around people they don't know.
“The little one especially,” noted Ross.
“I started cutting his hair on my own and then I see this in the program so I thought I'd take it for more experience, to do it around the community for younger kids, just to get them comfortable,” she added.
There was a lot of coursework at the beginning of the program but Ross said most of it has been very interesting, such as the chemical make-up of different dyes and how they react to each person's hair differently.
The condition of the hair, medication, stress, and even being sick can have an affect on hair.
“I just found out a lot about myself," Ross enthused. ”We learn a lot through all of this.
“It's a very big change for me coming here. Exciting, too,” she added.
Ross' cousin, Jenn Morrisseau, also is in the program. In fact, Ross was the one who suggested they take the course.
“She told me about it one day and then the next day we went to go sign up,” Morrisseau recalled.
Hair colouring is her favourite thing to do because of the variety in colours and ideas that are requested.
“Everybody picks something different," Morrisseau remarked. "It's kind of interesting what people pick.”
Even though school was the last thing on her mind, Morrisseau has enjoyed the program's small classes and helpful instructors and staff.
It's also something that is hers.
“This is the first time I'm doing something for myself," she stressed. "And I love it.”
Eldridge, meanwhile, said the SGEI takes a lot of its cues from the local labour market. The esthetics program was moved to the Kenora campus last year after completion, with the hairstyling program taking its place.
After the graduation of the current intake of students, SGEI will be accepting another group of applicants for the hairstyling program.
Then after the 45-week program comes to an end next summer, Eldridge said the tentative plan is to move it to the Kenora campus and bring esthetics back to its satellite campus here.
“There are restrictions in term of the number of apprentices a particular salon can take on,” Eldridge explained.
“They have to have a one stylist-to-one apprentice ratio," he noted. ”So we can't put out three or four years' worth of apprentices into the market with that 2,000 hours.
“At some point, we'd just be putting out students that can't find a job,” he reasoned.
Class sizes throughout the SGEI's programs are small—only 10 or so students. The smaller class sizes allow the SGEI team, from instructors through to the administration, to provide a better environment for the students.
“The students benefit from that more small environment [because] we can be more hands-on,” said Eldridge.
“We know the students by name," he remarked. "We know their back stories and it puts us in a better position to keep them moving forward.”
Throughout their schooling, the hairstyling students have moved from practising their skills and techniques on mannequins to real people of all ages.
The students currently are in their last semester, and the salon is open to the public three days per week (Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) until mid-August.
During their time in the salon, the students design the work space and take on a management role, through marketing, stocking, and pricing products, as well as administrative duties.
“By this point and time, they are essentially running the show,” said Eldridge.
“The instructor just kind of rotates, checks on things and answers any minor questions that they may have, but they are essentially full-blown stylists at this point and fairly independent.”
The SGEI was created in 1985 to address issues related to education for the 10 bands in the area, such as tuition, curriculum, and special services, and is involved in education from elementary school through to post-secondary.
Eldridge said they have teacher assistants within the local boards of education and provide them cultural language support.
“Through articulation agreements through mainstream institutions like Canadore College [in North Bay] and Sault College [in Sault Ste. Marie], we work with them as an extension,” he added.
“A university-college extension program to bring their programs from their locations locally to the Fort Frances and the Kenora area to provide opportunities for our students.”
The hairstyling and esthetics programs are examples of this partnership, as both are supported through Sault College.
Meanwhile, more than 30 years later, construction of a new building to house SGEI's programs is closer to becoming a reality.
They hope the building will be complete in December, with a move-in date of January.
“We just look forward to really welcoming people,” said Eldridge.
“We suspect it's going to be a major game-changer for the Fort Frances area.”